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Tech Watch: Renovating retail

Tech Watch: Renovating retail

Retailers are facing a multitude of challenges, but technology may just be the get out of gaol card. ARN investigates the state of play and innovations at the point of sale.

The spectacular crash of Clive Peeters in May was like a splash of cold water in the middle of winter – a shock, and a reminder not to get too comfortable when it’s freezing outside.

Yes, there are pockets of the retail market doing well, and indeed, several went from strength to strength despite the financial crisis, such as JB Hi-Fi. But Clive Peeters isn’t an isolated case. While it’s unimaginable that David Jones or Myer will fall over any time soon, both mass merchant monoliths have reported softer market conditions and warned of challenges ahead.

Meanwhile, those less-certain retailers, such as Clive Peeters and Strathfield Electronics to speak just of the ICT sector, have been struggling.

Then there’s the threat from overseas multinational retailers with Web shops. Recently, managing director of the upcoming Online Retailer Expo & Conference, Mark Harvey, claimed there was a ‘yawning gap’ in local e-commerce best practice. He pointed to a recent US-based Internet Retailer survey, which found 36.8 per cent of Web retailers ranked Australia as one of their top three markets for generating Web sales outside of the United States.

With the hammer-and-anvil of a soft market and online retailers pulling little pieces of consumer spend offshore, now is not a time for a retailer to fall behind on the technology front. Luckily, some of the things that can be done at the point of sale to improve customer engagement and efficiency need not be overly complex or expensive.

“Point of sale is very affordable technology,” Ingram Micro business manager for DC POS, Evan Thomas, claimed. “There’s a lot of infrastructure inside retailers these days, so they can attach our products into their current infrastructure without much overhead. It’s a fairly simple and easy adoption path for them.”

Ingram Micro represents about 40 vendors within its Point-of-Sale (POS) division – some as a result of its Vantex acquisition last year, and others from the integration of digital signage business into the unit.

Digital signage

One way retailers can improve or supplement existing advertising options is through digital signage – a solution already well entrenched in hospitality. Another example of innovation in this space is Sony’s video camera technology, which now has analytics capabilities built-in and can also broadcast offers to nearby shoppers. Both digital signage and video camera technology can be rolled onto existing infrastructure, and present sound ROIs for the marketing budget.

Another potential investment is in queue busting technology, Thomas claimed. If you’ve been to a Woolworths self-service checkout, or had McDonalds service staff take your order on a handheld computer while you wait in line on a busy day, you’ll be familiar with the types of queue busting solutions hitting the market. And they’re becoming more popular than you might expect.

“Queue busting operations are becoming far more prominent even for the small and medium retailers, because it leaves more staff on the floor for customer interaction,” Thomas said.

According to Retail Directions managing director, Andrew Gorecki, it’s not necessary, nor wise, for retailers in the current economic climate to be splurging out on massive refreshes at the point of sale. Keeping things simple and tightly integrated is the best way to implement a strong solution for a retailer, he claimed.

“We’re seeing a drive toward single systems running an enterprise, whereas five years ago people would not be sure whether that was the way to go or whether it was better to buy bits and pieces from various integrators,” he said.

“You cannot have a good CRM system unless it completely integrates with your transaction system. The whole thrust of CRM is to find out who is buying what, and if someone is not buying something from you which they should. For instance, if they’re buying shirts and not matching pants, you can give them promotional offers.”

By providing a unified platform for point of sale, supply chain logistics, communications, back-end and resourcing planning, 20 people in IT across 220 shops can function better together, he claimed.

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Tags retaildigital signageClive Peeters

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